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editorial

New voter ID laws carry a political agenda

Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania House majority leader, is honest if nothing else. His exact statement to a crowd of state Republicans — that the state’s new voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania” — was the most truthful accounting of why the party is pushing for allegedly more stringent voting rules across the nation. This is not about combating voter fraud, a claim that has never been substantiated, but about limiting the participation of people likely to vote for the other party.

Pennsylvania’s new rules will require a government photo ID to be able to vote, which disproportionately burdens those without cars: the poor, elderly, and minority voters who trend Democratic. Students without drivers’ licenses will also be stuck.

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Since 2011, nearly 200 bills have been introduced in 41 states that seek to impose tougher voting rules and would disproportionately strike at core Democratic constituencies. The proposed rules include, beyond photo IDs, efforts to reduce early and absentee voting and limiting same-day registration programs. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is now investigating the impact of these new laws and must continue to do so.

Improving voting systems is an important agenda but the problem is not voter fraud, it is negligence. The nation’s voting infrastructure is antiquated, and an embarrassment for a nation that upholds democratic engagement to the rest of the world. New programs for allowing electronic ballots, creating enhanced voter-registration databases, and guaranteeing ballot security are all legitimate efforts to improve the integrity of the voting system.

But laws like Pennsylvania’s aren’t about the integrity of voting. As Turzai was clear to remind us, they are about who wins elections. He should be applauded for making it so clear.

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